Cavani outshines Ronaldo but injury could dampen Uruguay’s long-term hopes

Edinson Cavani came up big for Uruguay on the big stage with two brilliant goals. Francisco Seco/Ap Photo (ESPN)
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SOCHI, Russia — Three points from Uruguay’s 2-1 win over Portugal in the round of 16 at the World Cup.

1. Cavani delivers as Uruguay send Portugal home

Edinson Cavani produced the most impressive international performance of his career with two stunning goals to send Uruguay into the World Cup quarterfinals –but a second-half hamstring injury against Portugal has now left the Paris Saint-Germain striker facing a battle to be fit for Friday’s last-eight matchup against France.

In another pulsating World Cup clash — far from the ugly, defensive game many had expected in Sochi – the oft-criticised Cavani scored an outstanding first-half header and then a majestic curling effort on 62 minutes to prove his class on the biggest stage

Pepe’s headed equaliser on 55 minutes had given Portugal hope, but Cavani, who has earned a reputation for failing to deliver in the most important games for club and country, silenced his critics with a memorable showcase of centre-forward play.

But his fitness will now be a major worry for Uruguay, who showed in this game that they have the credentials to go all the way in Russia — if El Matador is healthy.

Coach Oscar Tabarez spoke ahead of the game about his team’s togetherness and deep-rooted unity, with many of his players having first emerged during Uruguay’s 2011 Copa America triumph, and their club mentality was on show against Portugal.

No team works harder than Uruguay and they have a tough, disciplined defence marshalled by Diego Godin, a resolute midfield and world-class goalscorers in Cavani and Luis Suarez.

But with Cavani in such sensational form, it will be huge blow to Uruguay’s hopes against France if the former Napoli striker misses out.

With or without Cavani, though, Uruguay will make it incredibly tough for France and should not be written off.

2. Stop Ronaldo, stop Portugal

It is an accusation often levelled at Portugal that they are a toothless team if Cristiano Ronaldo has an off-day, but their victory in the Euro 2016 final with their talisman missing most of the game through injury is used as the perfect riposte to that suggestion.

Without their star man, Portugal won their first-ever major honour by defeating France in Paris, but as impressive as that success was, the French also played a big part in their own downfall.

Against Uruguay, though, we saw the reality of Portugal’s overreliance on the Real Madrid forward.

At 33, Ronaldo is still the most important player in Fernando Santos’s team, but it really is a case that if you stop Ronaldo, you beat Portugal.

He did not even manage a touch of the ball in the Uruguay penalty area during a frustrating first half when his only effort was a free kick that was blocked by the wall.

Ronaldo did take defenders away from Pepe, allowing the defender to head in a 55th-minute equaliser, but this was a night when nobody else was able to come to the party and ease the creative burden on the Real Madrid superstar.

Bernando Silva failed to deliver, while youngster Goncalo Guedes was also a no-show alongside Ronaldo.

Portugal have been dragged to unprecedented heights by Ronaldo over the years, but he now needs help to keep them among the world’s elite.

3. Uruguay strike back for South America

This was a big win for Uruguay, but it was also an important victory for South America considering the European dominance of this World Cup so far.

With France knocking out Argentina in Kazan earlier in the day, the loss of Uruguay just a few hours later would have left just Brazil and Colombia flying the flag for the continent of South America.

But by defeating the reigning European champions, the two-time World Cup winners will face France in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday with hopes of making it to the semifinals and keeping alive the prospect of an all-South American clash in the final.

Europe has won the last three World Cups, with Italy, Spain and Germany becoming world champions since Brazil last took the trophy back to South America in 2002.

There are many possible factors for Europe’s grip on the World Cup, but South America’s contribution to the world game is at least on a par with Europe, with so many of its players starring for European clubs.

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Cavani, Neymar and so many others are leading lights in Europe, so it is crucial for the game that South America goes deep into this World Cup. – Espn